The Columnist (2019) Film Movement 5/11/2021
Directed By: Ivo van Aart
Starring: Katija Herbers, Claire Porro, Bram van der Kelen
Disclaimer: Film Movement has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.
A writer getting revenge on their online-trolls? Did someone make a movie just for me? Femke Boots (Katjia Herbers) is a successful columnist but is ready to break out of this with her first book. She hits a road block in her book as her cynical editor wants massive re-writes and re-working of her original manuscript. Meanwhile, the flood of online trolls to her online column is getting worse, even including death threats. She goes to the police but they instantly shrug her off and the threats are not taken seriously. In fact, they tell her just to stay off platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Out of curiosity she looks up one of her trolls and to her shock finds that he is a next door neighbor. On an impulse she kills him and cuts off a finger. After the murder something clicks and she is able to write. Now, she must keep killing these online-bullies to keep her creative juices flowing.
The issue of online bullying and trolls that try and bring down artists and creative people is something that is sadly just a part of the internet. Ivo addresses this and uses it in a the form of a thriller, something that is long over due. I admit that as much as I loved the concept I was a bit cautious going into this film. I didn't want a film that was preachy but was nuanced enough to thought-provoking. Thankfully I think the film does a very good job at achieving its goal. Femke Boots is a very likable character but the filmmakers make it perfectly clear that we shouldn't love what she's doing and in turn doesn't glorify her actions. Brilliantly Ivo van Aart allows us to enjoy the first few kills, and we are every bit rooting for Femke during his Kill Bill style revenge. Its the kind of power-fantasy that can be so alluring because I think most of us have been the victim of some form of Internet bullying. This switches when, I believe its her third victim starts talking to her and, while yes he's still a piece of shit online-bully we start seeing the mans humanity.
It's important we get a scene like this because, while yes its a horrible and ugly thing people do, at the end of the day they are still flawed people. Had this not been in the case I dont think that film would have worked as well as it did. But, the core theme is really brought home in the form of Femke's daughter Anna (Claire Porro). You see, Anna is working on a free speech project at her school. In a wonderfully and brilliantly edited montage Anna gives a speech about how people are being killed in places in Russia for their online comments of rebellion, inter-cut with mother Femke who is literally killing people for their view points. Maybe thats a bit too-on-the-nose but I think it nails the point home while giving an example of another aspect of the film that I liked: the dark comedy. The film is serious, yes but it also has a wickedly black-sense of humor. Like, you gotta chuckle at how biblical she is in regards to how she takes the finger of her victims afterwards. Also the fact that she dates a morbid horror writer who is actually unsettled by the murders is a fun bit of irony.
On a technical side the film has wonderful camera work, production design and attention to detail and well done editing. Ivo also crafts a mood that is eerie and dread filled yet grounded in a almost painfully mundane reality. Katija Herbers (Westworld) plays Femke and she does a fantastic job! I think that this role is a key to the fail or success of the film and Herbers brings a subtle but effective performance that is the lynch-pin in the film working as well as it does. Claire Porro is great as well and the two are very believable as a mother-daughter duo.
If I had to complain about the film its that I think the ending is somehow both incredibly satisfying in one regard but also maybe a little abrupt. Some critics may say that the core theme is a bit on the nose. And yes, that might be true yet writing and directing is so spot on I think it works despite itself. Again, had all of the trolls been one-sided ugly caricatures and, Femke being made out to be some white-knight, I dont think it would have had the same kind of gravity or depth.
The Columnist is a darkly funny, twisted and satisfying modern cautionary tale. A must watch!
Picture: For being on DVD this movie looks quite sharp. Colors pop and the overall visual presentation is well defined.
Sound: The Columnist has a really well 'executed' DTS 5.1 track. Sound design, score and dialogue come through heartily and the 5.1 track offers a nice complex sound presentation in my opinion.